If you’re searching for a beginners guide to hydroponic gardening you’re likely one of the many Arizona residents looking for a way to maximize your vegetable gardening efforts. Being able to produce more vegetables faster helps offset the extra costs of rising food prices and ensure that you and your family are eating the freshest and most healthy vegetables available.
Hydroponics is a based on 2 Greek words – “hydro” and “ponics” meaning water- labor. The whole concept of soilless gardening has been around for thousands of years. The Floating Gardens of China and Gardens of Babylon are early examples of hydroponics. Scientists began to experiment with soilless gardens in the 1950s. Since then, other countries like Australia, Holland and Germany have been using hydroponics for producing crops with really great results.
Benefits of Hydroponics
Hydroponics have proved various advantages over soil gardening. The growth rate for Hydroponic plants are 30%-50% faster than a soil plant that is gardened under the same conditions. The plant yield is also more. Scientists believe that there are a lot of reasons for the big differences between soil plants and hydroponic plants. The extra oxygen in the hydroponic growing mediums really help to stimulate root growth, so if there is ample oxygen in the root system it will absorb nutrients quicker.
The plant won’t have to search within the soil for the required nutrients. The nutrients are delivered directly to the plant several times daily. A hydroponic plant will require little energy to find and then break down the food. The plant will use this stored energy to grow faster and produce more fruit. Another positive effect of hydroponics is that they have less issues with funguses, diseases, and bug infestations. Basically, a hydroponic plant is much happier and healthy.
Hydroponics Is Environmentally Friendly
Hydroponic gardening also has benefits for the environment. Since it doesn’t use much water unlike soil because of a reuse of nutrient solutions. Because of the lack of need, there are less pesticides used on these crops. Since there isn’t a use for topsoil, there isn’t an issue with topsoil erosion. Although, if the agricultural trends continue to waste water and erode the topsoil, then hydroponics may be the only way to go.
The overall purpose for a growing medium is to support and aerate the root system of the plant and to help channel the nutrients and water. Different growing mediums will work well in various hydroponic systems. Fast draining systems such as expanded shale or Hydrocorn works well for a flow and ebb type of system.
The hydrocorn is expanded clay aggregate that is very light. It is airy and light growing medium that lets plenty of oxygen to penetrate the root system. Both types of grow rocks are able to be reused, however the shale has a tendency to not last as long and break down unlike hydrocorn. These rocks are quite stable and will hardly affect the pH of the nutrient solution.
Rockwool Growing Medium
Rockwool is a very popular growing medium. It was originally used as insulation in construction. There is now a Rockwool that is a horticultural grade. Unlike Rockwool insulation, this type is pressed into growing blocks and cubes. It is made from limestone and volcanic rock and they are melted together at 2500 degrees or higher.
The melted solution is poured into a spinning cylinder, like cotton candy and then pressed into cubes, sheets or blocks. Because Rockwool will hold 10 to 14 times more water than soil and it retains 20% air, it can be used in just about any hydroponic system. However, you must watch the pH, since Rockwool has a pH of 7.8, it could raise your pH in your nutrient solution. It also can’t be used indefinitely and many gardeners only get 1 use per cube and it is used for propagation.
Alternative Growing Mediums
Other growing mediums are vermiculite, perlite, and different sand grades. These are the 3 mediums are stable and will rarely affect the pH of the nutrient solution. However, they will hold too much moisture and need to be used with plants that can tolerate these conditions. Sand, perlite and vermiculite are inexpensive and work in wick systems, but they are not the most effective growing mediums.
Many of the principles that apply to a soil fertilizer will apply to hydroponic fertilizers aka nutrient solutions. The nutrient solution for hydroponics will contain all the elements that a plant gets from the soil. These nutrients are available at a hydroponic store. Many are highly concentrated and use 2-4 teaspoons per gallon of water.
They come in powdered or liquid mixes and usually for 2 different containers, one for bloom and one for grow. The liquids are more expensive, but easier to use. They dissolve completely and quickly in the reservoir and will have a pH buffer. The powdered mixes are cheaper and require a bit more attention. They have to be mixed thoroughly and won’t dissolve completely in the reservoir.They also don’t have a pH buffer.
Many plants are able to grow hydroponically in a pH range of 5.8-6.8 but 6.3 is considered best. The pH within a hydroponic system is easier to check than the pH of soil. Most pet, hardware and even hydroponic stores will have a pH testing kit. They range from $4-$15, depending on the type and range of test. Testing the pH is easy and important for a hydroponic system.
If the pH is too low or too high, it may not be able to absorb its nutrients and will begin to show deficiencies. The pH needs to be checked weekly and it is easy to adjust it by adding soluble phosphoric acid to lower the pH or Potash to raise the pH.There are even pH meters out there. These will give you a digital reading of your pH, but these meters cost around $100 and are not needed in many cases.
Gardening Supply & Nursery East Phoenix Valley
If you’re interested in growing your own vegetables and need help getting started A&P Nursery has 4 locations in the Phoenix Valley to serve you. We sell the seeds, plants, and tools you need to get started with your gardening needs. Call us today or come by and see what we can do to help get you started growing your own vegetables or fruits.